Lycians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians: Strabo contrasts civilized and uncivilized peoples in southern Anatolia (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Lycians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians: Strabo contrasts civilized and uncivilized peoples in southern Anatolia (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 15, 2024,

Ancient author: Artemidoros of Tarsos (first century BCE) and Strabo (early first century CE), Geography 14.3-14.5 (link).

Comments: Strabo continues his journey along the southern coast of the Anatolia, moving from Caria and going east through Lycia towards Pamphylia. Strabo takes this as an opportunity to characterize the peoples of Lycia as civilized and their neighbours further east as uncivilized. Here one of Strabo’s favourite categorizations plays a role as he casts the Cilicians living in the rugged or rough part of that area as, themselves, rough bandits (in this case sea-bandits or pirates). Strabo holds the view that populations in particular places are shaped by the character and conditions of their environments. In contrast, the Lycians are well-organized under a league (here he draws on Artemidoros of Tarsos for his information) while their immediate neighbours, the Pamphylians, are under the bad influence of rough Cilicians.

Strabo also engages another one of his favourite topics in this passage, and that is the supposed ethnographic accuracy of the poet Homer. Here Strabo argues in favour of Homer’s view that the Solymians are to be distinguished from Lycians, and Strabo also himself proposes that the Solymians as a peoplare identical to contemporary Milyans. He sets aside other contemporary opinions which, he feels, conflict with Homer.

Finally, Strabo turns to debates about the historical peoples of the southern coast of Anatolia, with a focus on allies of the Trojans as mentioned by Homer. Here he draws on a variety of opinions, including those of Apollodoros and Ephoros.


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Carians, go to this link].

[Geographical setting of Lycia]

(14.3) (1) After the Peraia of the Rhodians (Rhodioi), which has the city of Daidala as its [eastern] boundary, sailing next in order towards the rising sun, one comes to Lycia, which extends as far as Pamphylia. Then one comes to Pamphylia, extending as far as the the rugged Cilicians [i.e. inhabitants of Cilicia Tracheia, “Rugged Cilicia”] and then to the land of the rugged Cilicians, extending as far as the other Cilicians (Kilikoi) living round the gulf of Issos [location of the Battle of Issos between Alexander III of Macedonia and Darius III of Persia in 333 BCE; Diodoros, Library 17.34.2-9 (link)]. These are parts of the peninsula, the isthmus of which, as I was saying earlier, is the road from Issos [on the coast of Cilicia] to Amisos [Samsun, Turkey], or, according to some, Sinope [Sinop], but they lie beyond [i.e. east  or northeast of] the Taurus mountains on the narrow coast which extends from Lycia as far as the region of Soloi, the present Pompeiopolis [modern Taşköprü, Turkey]. Then immediately after that the coast that lies on the Issic Gulf [i.e. Gulf of Issus], beginning at Soli and Tarsus, spreads out into plains. So then, when I have traversed the coast, my account of the whole peninsula will have been completed. Then I will pass to the other parts of Asia that are outside the Taurus. Finally I will present my account of Libya.

[Uncivilized Pamphylians and rugged Cilicians engaging in sea-banditry]

(2) Then, after the city of Daidala belonging to the Rhodians, one comes to a mountain in Lycia which carries the same name as the city of Daidala, from which location the whole voyage along the Lycian coast begins. This coast extends one thousand seven hundred and twenty stadium-lengths [approx. 271 km], and is rugged and hard to travel. Yet it is exceedingly well supplied with harbours and inhabited by reasonable people (phronoi anthrōpoi). Indeed, the nature of the land is similar, at least, to both that of the Pamphylians (Pamphyloi) and the rough Cilicians (Tracheōtes Kilikes). Yet the former used their regions as bases of operation to engage in sea-banditry (lēstēria), if they did engage in sea-banditry themselves, or they offered these regions to other sea-bandits as markets for the sale of plunder and as naval stations.

[Civilized Lycians and their league, according to Artemidoros of Tarsos]

Anyways, in Side [modern Manavgat, Turkey], which is a city in Pamphylia, the dockyards stood open to the Cilicians, who would sell their captives at auction there [as enslaved persons] even though they admitted that these were actually free men. But the Lycians (Lykioi) continued living in such a civilised and decent way that, although the Pamphylians through their successes gained the mastery of the sea as far as Italy, they themselves were still stirred by no desire for shameful gain, but remained within the ancestral domain of the Lycian league.

(3) There are twenty-three cities that share in the vote of this Lycian league. They come together from each city to a general congress, after choosing whatever city they agree upon to meet. The largest of the cities control three votes each, the medium-sized cities two, and the rest of the cities one. In the same proportion they make contributions and discharge other services. Artemidoros [of Tarsos] said that the six largest cities were Xanthos, Patara, Pinara, Olympos, Myra, and Tlos, the last-named being situated near the pass that leads over into Kibyra. At the congress they first choose a “Lyciarch” [leader of the Lycians] and then other officials of the league. General courts of justice are also designated. In earlier times they would deliberate about war, peace, and alliances, but now they naturally do not do so, since these matters necessarily lie in the power of the Romans, except, perhaps if the Romans give them permission or if it is for their benefit. Likewise, judges and magistrates are elected from the several cities in the same proportion. Since the Lycians lived under such a good government, they always remained free under the Romans, thereby retaining their ancestral customs.

The Lycians witnessed the clearing out of sea-bandits (lēstai) first by Servilius Isauricus [proconsul of Cilicia, ca. 78-74 BCE], at the time that he demolished Isaura, and later by Pompey the Great [ca. 67 BCE], when he set fire to more than thirteen hundred boats and destroyed their settlements. Of the sea-bandits who survived the fights [cf. 8.7.5], he brought some of them down to Soloi, which he named Pompeiopolis, and the others to Dyme [in Greece], where there was a dearth of population; it is now occupied by a colony of Romans [cf. Paus. 7.17.5; link]. The poets, however, and especially the tragic poets, confuse the peoples (ethnē), as, for example, the Trojans, Mysians, and Lydians, whom they call “Phrygians,”  and likewise the Lycians, whom they call “Carians”. . . [omitted geographical details of the journey further east].

[Discerning Solymians, Termilians, and Lycians in relation to Homer]

. . . (9) Now the city of Solyma is also Lycian, being situated on the borders near Pamphylia, but it has no part in the common league and is a separate organization to itself. (10) Now the poet [Homer] makes the Solymians (Solymoi) different from the Lycians, for when Bellerophon was sent by the king of the Lycians to the second struggle, “he fought with the glorious Solymians” [Ilad 6.180-85 – link]. Now others are not in agreement with Homer. They assert that, in earlier times, the Lycians were called Solymians but in later times were called Termilians (Termilai), from the Termilians who came there from Crete with Sarpedon [cf. 12.8.5 – link]. They assert that, after this, the Termilians were called Lycians, from Lykos the son of Pandion. After being banished from his homeland, Lykos was admitted by Sarpedon as a partner in his empire. There is a better opinion among those who assert that by “Solymians” the poet means the people who are now called the Milyans (Milyai), of whom I have already spoken [13.8.5]. . . [omitted sections].

(14.4.3) Herodotos​ (Histories 7.91) says that the Pamphylians are the descendants of the peoples led by Amphilochus and Calchas, a miscellaneous throng who accompanied them from Troy; and that most of them remained here, but that some of them were scattered to numerous places on earth. Callinus says that Calchas died in Clarus, but that the peoples led by Mopsus passed over the Taurus, and that, though some remained in Pamphylia, the others were dispersed in Cilicia, and also in Syria as far even as Phoenicia.


(14.5.1) As for Cilicia outside the Taurus, one part of it is called Tracheia​ (“Rugged”) and the other Pedias (“Level”). As for Tracheia, its coast is narrow and has no level ground, or scarcely any. Besides that, it lies at the foot of the Taurus mountain range, which offers a poor livelihood as far as its northern side in the region of Isaura and of the Homonadeis as far as Pisidia. The same country is also called Tracheiotis, and its inhabitants Tracheiotians. But Cilicia Pedias extends from Soloi and Tarsos as far as Issos, and also to those parts beyond which, on the northern side of the Taurus, Cappadocians are situated For this country consists for the most part of plains and fertile land. Since some parts of this country are inside the Taurus and others outside it, and since I have already spoken of those inside it, let me now speak of those outside it, beginning with the Tracheiotians.

[Rough Cilicians / Tracheiotians, sea-banditry, the slave-trade, and Roman intervention]

(14.5.2) The first place in Cilicia, then, to which one comes, is a stronghold, Korakesion, situated on an abrupt rock, which was used by Diodotos, called Tryphon, as a base of operations at the time when he caused Syria to revolt from the kings and was fighting it out with them, being successful at one time and failing at another. Now Tryphon was hemmed up in a certain place by Antiochus, son of Demetrios, and forced to kill himself. It was Tryphon, together with the worthlessness of the kings who by succession were then reigning over Syria and at the same time over Cilicia, who caused the Cilicians to organise their gangs of pirates (peiratika). For on account of his revolutionary attempts others made similar attempts at the same time, and so the dissensions between these brothers put the country at the mercy of any who might attack it.

The exportation of slaves induced them most of all to engage in their evil business, since it proved most profitable because not only were slaves easily captured, but the market, which was large and rich in property, was not extremely far away. By this I mean Delos, which could both admit and send away ten thousand slaves on the same day, which is where we get the proverb: “Merchant, sail in, unload your ship, everything has been sold.” The cause of this was the fact that the Romans, having become rich after the destruction of Carthage and Corinth, used many slaves. The bandits (lēstai), who noticed that there was easy profit in slave-trade, expanded in great numbers. They did this not only in quest for plunder but also for trafficking in slaves. The kings both of Cyprus and of Egypt cooperated with them in this, being enemies to the Syrians. Neither were the Rhodians friendly to the Syrians, and so they they did not offer them assistance. And at the same time the bandits, pretending to be slave-dealers, carried on their evil business unhindered.

Neither were the Romans yet concerning themselves much about the peoples beyond the Taurus mountains. But they did send Scipio Aemilianus and, subsequently, certain others to inspect the peoples (ethnē) and the cities. They decided that the above mentioned banditry was due to the incompetence of the rulers, although they were ashamed, since they themselves had ratified the hereditary succession from Seleukos Nikator, to deprive them of it. This is what made the Parthians masters of the country, who got possession of the region on the far edge of the Euphrates. This also finally made the Armenians masters, who not only seized the country beyond the Taurus mountains even as far as Phoenicia, but also, so far as they could, overthrew the kings and the whole royal line.

However, they left the sea to the Cilicians. Then, after these people had grown in power, the Romans were forced to destroy them by war and with an army, although they had not hindered their growing power. Now it is hard to condemn the Romans of negligence since, being engaged with matters that were nearer and more urgent, they were unable to watch those that were farther away. That’s what I have decided to say by way of a brief digression from my geographical description. . . [omitted sections].

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of the migration of historical peoples within Anatolia, go to this link].


Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Daniel Mitchell and Harland.

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